Wizards have themselves a real pro in Kirk Hinrich

Within minutes of Kirk Hinrich's press conference introducing him as a member of the Wizards, it became clear why team president Ernie Grunfeld decided to acquire him in a trade last month.  

For one, Grunfeld has, quite literally, coveted Hinrich since Hinrich entered the league.  The Wizards president admitted that he scouted Hinrich extensively prior to the 2003 draft, when Grunfeld was still with the Bucks, and had him on his radar for his team's eighth pick.  The Bulls ultimately selected Hinrich one pick before Milwaukee, but Grunfeld said today that if Hinrich had slipped, "it's safe to say" that the Bucks would have picked him.

For another, though, there's something about the way Hinrich seems to carry himself that could be a real asset to this team.  Obviously, I'm getting this sense merely from a press conference, and it remains to be seen what happens once actual basketball is played.  But I was very impressed with the way Hinrich answered questions.  He seemed pretty shy, and does not seem like the kind of guy who likes hearing himself talk.  In other words, he seemed like a guy who just wanted to play basketball.  A professional, if you will.

"He's had an outstanding career.  He brings it every night, he's a pro, he works very hard, he competes and he's very versatile," Grunfeld said.  "Those are the kind of players we're looking for."

Hinrich's demeanor reminded me of something I wrote back during the year.  When Antawn Jamison left for Cleveland, I wrote this post discussing what I felt was the difference between being a leader and being a pro.  Jamison was a pro, but he was miscast as a leader because he tended to get frustrated when people didn't listen to him.  The Wizards, at the time, had pros (Caron Butler, Jamison, Darius Songaila, Mike Miller, Randy Foye, etc.), but needed a leader, and Jamison wasn't the right guy.  

But now, the tables have been turned.  The Wizards have a leader, and his name is John Wall.  It's pros that they need who will set a good example and shun the spotlight.  Kirk Hinrich provides that.

You saw that on display whenever Hinrich was asked about the "mentoring" role he took with Derrick Rose, who, like Wall, was a fellow No. 1 overall pick in 2008.  Hinrich seemed a bit embarrassed by the question and immediately deflected credit away from himself.  

"When Derrick [Rose] came to the Bulls, I really feel like I got too much credit for [mentoring him].  He's just very good," Hinrich said, sighing before answering the question.

He added that if he did lead, it was mostly "by example," though he did sometimes talk to Rose and be more vocal when necessary.  But when asked the same question after the press conference, Hinrich again deflected praise.

"I wouldn't say I was hands-off; I worked with him a lot. But everyone's like 'Oh, you mentored Derrick Rose,' and I feel like I got way too much credit for that," Hinrich said, smiling.  "I always was talking to him and things like that, but he was very good."

One reporter tried one more time to get Hinrich to elaborate, asking what kinds of things he hopes to "impress" on Wall that he may have impressed on Rose as a rookie. Hinrich's response was simply to say that he doesn't know until he interacts with Wall more. 

Deflecting credit and doing his work away from the cameras? That's one sign of being a real pro. That's the quality of Hinrich that Grunfeld must have seen when deciding to trade for him, and it's a quality that I think will ultimately help the team in some capacity going forward.

(More below the jump)

A couple other quick notes, and a follow-up point about Hinrich's salary:

 

  • Hinirch admitted that he is more "comfortable" playing point guard and that it will be his "challenge" in training camp to figure out how he can best help this club. However, he also added that he is "definitely capable" of playing both guard positions.
  • Hinrich said he was "blindsided" by the trade in June, even though he admitted his name has come up in many trade rumors recently, but is ready and excited for a "fresh start" on his career.  In fact, he used the words "fresh start" at three different points during the proceedings. 
  • Grunfeld opened the proceedings with these remarks.  "When you build, you also need some veterans, some leaders.  Some players that have been through the wars before, and Kurt is definitely one of those players."  I'm guessing the "Kurt" was an accidental slip, because he corrected himself whenever referring to Hinrich's name again.  But it was still somewhat amusing to hear, because former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was notorious for calling Hinrich "Kurt" in press conferences last year.
  • Grunfeld also said that Hinrich might play some small forward next year. "Occasionally, Kurt can also play some small forward, especially from the defensive standpoint," he said.  Before you scoff, keep in mind that Hinrich did a nice job defending Paul Pierce for short stretches during the 2009 Playoffs. 
  • Speaking of defense, here's what Hinrich said when asked where his defensve mentality comes from.  "Growing up, I loved to score, but more than anything, I hated to be scored on.  When I got into the league, I realized that's how you win.  All these teams that win NBA Championships are very good defensively and all around good teams."
  • Hinrich called Gilbert Arenas one of the best players in the league, and added that he is "a good kid." I thought that was an interesting choice of words.
  • Hinrich even uttered the "P" word at one point during the proceedings. "Whenever you get the number one pick, and you have John [Wall] and a young cast around him, there's a sense that you're rebuilding.  But I feel like, when you have the talent, play the right way in the system and play hard every night, I think we can surprise a lot of people."
That's about all you need to know about today.  Still, my guess is many of you are nodding along and saying "well, yeah, we knew this, but what about that contract?"  Hinrich isn't coming as cheap as perhaps many of us would have liked, as he's owed $9 million next year and $8 million in 2011/12. However, in thinking more about the way the Wizards have gone about things this summer, Hinrich's deal really isn't the albatross I think many of us thought it would be. Kyle Weidie talked a little about this on Truth About It  last month, but I want to examine things further now that it appears most of the Wizards' free-agent shuffling is over.

Ultimately, I don't think the $9 million this season was really ever an issue.  The Wizards were not going to be major free-agent players this summer anyway, so instead, they used their cap space to take on an asset (the 17th pick).  Based on where the franchise was at, asset accumulation is the name of the game, and the Wizards accumulated an asset while keeping their payroll low.  They probably could not have gotten any of the big-name free agents, and overpaying for a second-tier player at this early stage of the game is exactly what gets your team stuck in neutral.

The $8 million in 2011/12 was a bit more problematic at the time.  But now that we've had a few weeks of summer to see how Grunfeld has decided to manage his team, that number really isn't a big deal at all.  The Wizards entered the summer with only six players under contract (five without Quinton Ross).  They drafted four and added Hinrich, making 11. To fill out the roster, they took on players for just one season (Yi Jianlian and Hilton Armstrong), and my educated guess (again, just a guess) is they're looking to do the same with Cartier Martin and his qualifying offer. Therefore, Hinrich is the only non-draft pick acquired this summer that has a long-term contract of any kind, and it's just for one more season.

But you're probably saying "it's still a needless $8 million expense, so why do it?"  After looking at the Wizards' payroll situation a bit more, it makes more sense.  Technically, the Wizards have $53.7 million committed to 11 players: Arenas, Andray Blatche, Hinrich, Wall, Kevin Seraphin, JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker,  Hamady Ndiaye, Yi Jianlian, Nick Young and Al Thornton.  That puts them close to this year's $58 million salary cap, and with a lockout looming, that cap number could very well go down.  However, there's a way around this, and that is to renounce the qualifying offers for Yi, Young and Thornton.  Doing that clears away $13,013,770 from the Wizards' 2011/12 cap number, putting them back at $40.7 million, where they'll retain their flexibility.  They could use that space to make a run at Carmelo Anthony, or they could once again execute these kind of deals where they end up with a veteran on a short-term contract and a pick.  Hell, they could even sit on that money, buy draft picks to fill out the roster (using money they've received from Chicago and New Jersey) and be home free if the post-lockout cap policies fundamentally alter the financial state of the league.

In a way, that looks like trading one year of Hinrich for all three of Young, Thornton and Yi, but that's not really true.  Even if you say goodbye to two of those guys, you still end up using about the same amount of money as if you would have by not taking on Hinrich.  In addition, I think we can safely say that Young and Thornton's places in this team's future were already under serious consideration before this season (to say nothing of Yi, who is very much in the "take a one-year flyer" mode).  If those guys don't cut it next year, you might as well wash your hands of them a year early and take the cap flexibility anyway.  

Bottom line: in the end, there are ways to mitigate Hinrich's $8 million on the team's cap next year, from a team management perspective.  It's important to note that this might not have been true if Grunfeld pursued a different free agency strategy.  I think it's very telling that the Wizards literally have not signed a single player, no matter how young or cheap or talented, to a contract beyond 2011. Grunfeld seems to have decided that he'd rather have Hinrich on board for one more year and $8 million extra for that year than Josh Childress for four more years and $6 million extra per year, or even Dorrell Wright for two more years and $4 million extra per year.  I'm not sure that's the decision I would have personally made, but it's certainly a justifiable course of action.  As long as the Wizards are building a young core through the draft, they might as well do everything possible to help that young core specifically breathe.  A long-term free agent signing, even one that was cheap, may not have been the appropriate thing to take on at this time.

Instead, Grunfeld chose Hinrich and his professionalism for one extra year.  I can certainly see, based on today, why he reached that conclusion. 
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